To this end, she employed a team of job coaches who, for $200 an hour, offered useless assignments (describe your fantasy job), along with résumé advice and personality tests galore. After a year on the trail, the best she was able to muster were positions selling AFLAC insurance (quack!) and Mary Kay cosmetics both independent-contractor gigs with no benefits. Given this failure, Bait and Switch is less an exposé of corporate America than it is the diary of a politicized job seeker.
After reading about her back-to-back undercover forays into different milieu, one has to wonder whether Ehrenreich is having a bit too much fun pretending to be someone she's not. She claims it isn't so; her efforts are purely journalistic, she says.
"It was very different in Nickel and Dimed," Ehrenreich explains to the Pitch from her home in southern Virginia. "I easily got a job, and it was, 'You gotta do this, you gotta do that.' You can't pretend to be a waitress. The food gets to the table or it doesn't. In Bait and Switch, there was a level of deception that was way beyond that. I had to have a fake résumé. I even had a different name to prevent recognition."
In the book, Ehrenreich ventures to job-coaching sessions, executive boot camps and a host of networking events at regrettable eateries with names like Roasted Garlic, but she's never in a position to observe her fellow unemployed over the long term. What she misses in "on the job" immediacy, however, she often makes up for in analysis. Take her distinction between blue- and white-collar job hunting. In the former, a pulse and a drug test can get you through the door. Not so in the corporate world, where employers expect an almost spiritual glee for work that does little but gnaw at the soul.
For Ehrenreich, downsizing and the systematic rise in white-collar unemployment shatter a social contract understood by generations.
"The idea of the corporation is a number of people coming together and acting as one body," she says. "I think it meant something like that well into the '70s. You were loyal to the company, and it was loyal to you. HR departments saw themselves as helping hold on to good employees. Since the late '80s, it began with the wave of mergers and acquisitions. Employees well up to the upper and middle levels are more likely to be seen as liabilities. 'How can we dispose of as many people as possible?'"
As Ehrenreich puts it, the corporate world still requires abject sacrifice, but without the one thing worth selling your soul for.
"It's the same demand for total loyalty but with no security," she says. "It's no longer good enough to do a good job. You have to be passionate about your work yet it's unrequited love."